IAEA: deal to protect nuclear plant could be ‘close’

A deal to secure the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine could be “close,” according to Rafael Mariano Grossi, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA).

However, he stressed that final details have yet to be agreed upon by Russian and Ukrainian officials.

Grossi (above) told reporters he met on Monday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and would “most probably” head to Russia in the coming days to try to finalize an agreement to protect the nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia. 

Fierce fighting for months near the facility has international officials worried about a nuclear disaster, with the potential for radiation spreading far beyond the immediate war zone.

“There is an increased level of combat, active combat” near the power plant, Grossi said. “My teams there report daily about the attacks, the sound of heavy weaponry. This is practically constant.”

Grossi has long called for a protection zone to be created around the plant, which is very near the front line of the war. But no agreement has been reached.

“It is a zone of extreme volatility. So, the negotiations are, of course, affected by the ongoing military operations,” Grossi said. “I would not characterise the process for the last few months as one that has not led to any progress.”

Grossi said he has maintained a professional dialogue with both Russian and Ukrainian officials as he seeks a deal “to ensure … that there is no radiological accident, major catastrophic accident, in Europe.”

“I think it’s close,” he said of the possibility of a deal. “Obviously, obviously, I need a political commitment, political decision. And in this case, what I want to stress is that what they would be agreeing is on the protection of the plant. They are not agreeing with each other. They are agreeing with the IAEA. They are agreeing with nuclear safety and security. This is a very important element which I believe should be taken into consideration.”

He said any such agreement would be limited to protection of the nuclear plant, not aimed at securing a broader cease-fire.

“What we are doing, the way we are presenting things is as a series of principles or commitments that the IAEA presents and everybody would be able to support,” he said. “So, in my opinion this should make an agreement possible, not impossible, not utopian, not something for which we should be waiting for months and months on end.”

Because of the fighting, he said, “I think the principle here is to avoid an accident, and the possibility of having it is increasing. This is a matter of fact.”